Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight

Civic/Ethnic Identities in a British Context
(2000)

In the 1980s Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, and Benedict Anderson, among others, introduced new perspectives into the study of nationalism.1 Since then nationalism itself has reemerged as a political force to be reckoned with and academic analysis of the phenomenon has developed at a remarkable rate. Amid the flood of new concepts the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism seems to have taken particular hold. Rogers Brubaker, for example, demonstrated the importance of this distinction by contrasting the French model of civic national identity which derives from the universalism of the French Revolution, and the German ethnic model, which takes “blood” descent as the basis of German national identity, with its origins in the Romantic Movement.2 As Brubaker showed, the contrast was not merely a matter for academic debate. On the contrary, it affected the life of thousands of individuals. In France, a civic approach to national identity led to a generally inclusive approach to immigrants. In Germany, however, second- and third-generation Turkish immigrants, Germanspeaking, found themselves unable to acquire German citizenship, whereas Russian-speaking “ethnic” Germans who had emigrated to Russia a century or more earlier and now wished to return encountered no such obstacles. This model of contrasting attitudes to national identity gains force if the United States is brought into the picture. Clearly, the U.S. constitution rests upon the notion of a civic American identity though this is not to deny that in certain periods and in particular states ethnic identities have been dominant, most notably in the case of slavery.

Looked at more closely, however, the contrast between French and German models of national identity appears less than absolute. In France discrimination on ethnic grounds lies behind the success of the National

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